Humanitarian Issues: How effective is the humanitarian aid system?

12 September, 2012
December 2010, Haiti: Children carry jugs of water at a camp for earthquake victims, in the Delmas District of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Near them, people collect water from a spigot. Credit: UNICEF
December 2010, Haiti: Children carry jugs of water at a camp for earthquake victims, in the Delmas District of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Near them, people collect water from a spigot. Credit: UNICEF

A first-of-its-kind report presenting a snapshot of the humanitarian system shows that aid organizations are responding to more people affected by natural disasters and emergencies than ever before. 

The State of the Humanitarian System gives a snapshot of performance to help formulate a strategy for the future. It covers all aspects of the humanitarian system, from pooled funds to aid effectiveness and the security of humanitarian workers, and it provides a methodology for regular assessment. 
 
The global humanitarian system “lacked systematic means to evaluate collective performance,” said Mr. John Mitchell of the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action, who produced the report. 
 
The report notes that the growth in needs is due to various factors including an increase in the number of natural disasters. From 2009 to 2010, aid organizations responded to 103 disasters. This is an increase of 10 per cent since 2007 and 2008, during which time 92 disasters were registered.
 
The report contains information from a survey of aid recipients from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Pakistan. Other sources include interviews, descriptive statistics, aid organization mapping and financial analysis.
 
The report found that the number of humanitarian workers has continued to grow. In 2010, there were 274,000 aid workers responding to millions of people worldwide, representing an increase of 4 per cent since 2009. Humanitarian funding has also increased, although growth slowed during the peak of the financial crisis. 
 
“There are now more actors, especially NGOs, in the system; more money available; more technological innovation and increased individual giving,” said UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos. “Agencies are getting humanitarian aid to people in very difficult operating conditions.”
 
Although the system has become more diverse, with over 4,400 NGOs, its reach and resources remain concentrated among a core group consisting of large international NGOs, UN agencies and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement.
 
Funding for humanitarian operations has also diversified, with a fivefold increase in private funds from corporations, foundations and individuals. However, financial support fluctuated depending on the emergencies: high-profile disasters received more funding compared with chronic conflict situations or cyclical crises.
 
For example, UN agencies and humanitarian partners responding to chronic drought and food insecurity affecting nine countries across West Africa’s Sahel region have only received a little over 50 per cent of the US$1.6 billion needed this year. 
 
The report calls for improvements in the relevance and appropriateness of humanitarian aid, including a better understanding of the local context, partly gained through communication with people receiving aid. 
 
“There is a growing recognition that strong involvement of national and local actors and affected people is necessary to ensure that humanitarian action can respond to real needs,” said Ms. Gwi-Yeop Son, Director of Corporate Programmes at OCHA.
 
She added that OCHA is adjusting to these changes by identifying new ways to engage with new actors and new voices. 
 
Reporting by David Pedroza